Category Archives: events

Race report: Hyde Park 20 miler

hyde park route map

Yesterday was my final long run, a 20 mile race around Hyde Park, designed with spring marathon training in mind. I’ve run up to this distance before – once a month ago, and again last week – but this race gave me an opportunity to try it out in race conditions, with water stops and chip timing.

Up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning, it looked like quite a nice spring day as I headed for the bus. By the time I reached the starting point near Hyde Park Corner it was gloomy, cold and threatening to rain. I handed over my £20 on-the-day registration fee and was given my timer chip, race number and bag tag in return. It was only then I realised I’d forgotten my Pebble.

Hyde Park start line

At the start line

As I pinned on my race number, I spotted an old schoolfriend, Paul, who’d decided to run the 20 miler for no reason, with little training and  without the last-minute training desperation of a spring marathon. Can only assume he was doing it to undermine my own struggle. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time, so it was great to catch up, not least because it took my mind off the freezing weather and the fact it had started to rain.

As the start time approached, I said goodbye to Paul, who headed over to the speedy pacers, and made my way to the chunky plodders group at the back. The race started exactly on time. It takes a winding four-mile course around the park, run five times to make 20 miles (16 and 24 mile options are available for slower and faster runners, respectively).

All in, the Hyde Park 20 Miler is an excellent race for marathon training. It’s well organised, with water stops every few miles and a decent swag bag at the end. The five-lap course is a little dull (especially on the fifth time around), but that does help with pacing.

I began strongly, but slowly, with a steady 10 minute mile pace all the way around for the first three laps (miles 1-12). The first lap was one big throng of runners, being cheered on by people in the park, but this thinned out progressively as the faster ones sped ahead, and by lap three I was running on my own and the cheerers were replaced with bemused people wondering while a handful of runners were wearing race numbers.

Paul overtook me midway through my third lap, and finished over an hour before I did. It’s been well over a decade since we left school – we’re both getting our first grey hairs, but ironically are far fitter than we were back then. As I ran, I realised I could never have done this at 18. I didn’t touch sport from the age of about 13 onwards, and it wasn’t until I found running in my thirties that I realised I had the mental and physical strength to do it when I put my mind to it. I only wish I’d discovered this earlier and saved myself a lot of self-loathing in my twenties.

By the time I hit the fourth lap, I could see the fastest runners finished already and collecting their goodie bags. I still had two laps to go. Around about here I started to feel really bad cramp in my leg. I spent the next mile wondering if I should stop. I pushed on through, slowly, and by midway through this lap it had eased off. The rest of lap four passed reasonably quickly, but the number of runners was really starting to thin out.

By the time I reached the end of lap four, I wondered if I was so slow there would even be time to do the next lap. I checked with the steward, who told me there was plenty of time, and reassured me that there were plenty of people behind me. I grabbed a Lucozade and kept plodding on for the fifth and final lap. This one was hard. It was just the slowest runners (like me) left, plodding along but flagging.  Somewhere on the first mile of this lap I hit a junction and with no runners in sight to follow, couldn’t remember which direction to take. I chose the wrong path, and had to double back on myself.  I had chat with another woman who made the same mistake, and we ran alongside each other for the first three miles, cheering each mile marker.

We reached the Mile 3 sign – signalling the last mile of the course – and let out an audible cheer. I powered down this stretch of Rotten Row, determined to run this final mile. I did, but I was so slow it was barely running at all. My lap five companion powered ahead, having found a reservoir of strength somewhere that I didn’t have. It was all I could do not to stop and walk. As the bandstand came into view I found a tiny bit more energy and sprinted as best I could for the last 300m to the finish.

Me at the finish

Me at the finish, exhausted

As I picked up my goodie bag I burst into tears, wondering how the hell I’ll do that again in three weeks time, with six more miles on the end. No one warns you how emotionally tough distance running is. This race was hard, but I performed better than I have when running on my own, and felt a genuine boost every time someone cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m hoping this will see me through the final 6.2 miles on the big day.

My Runkeeper made it 3:41:48, which I’m relatively pleased with as it’s a full minute per kilometre faster than I did on the same distance last week, and bodes well for a sub 5hr finish.  Pleasingly, my Runkeeper has upgraded itself to Elite, which gives me access to extra charts and stats (which makes my inner analytics nerd happy).

Emotional wobbles aside, after a rest and massive Sunday lunch, I’m feeling as prepared as I’ll ever be for 26.2 in three weeks time.

Let the tapering begin.

Race report: Reading Half Marathon

reading medal

Yesterday I ran the Reading Half for the third time. But this was the first time when it hasn’t been the focus of my training efforts, but merely a milestone on my training toward a longer distance.

This year I was more than confident I could do the distance, so used the Reading race as an opportunity to road-test my kit, battery and my live broadcasting, as well as my pacing in race conditions.

On previous years there’s been a big bunch of us doing Reading, but this year I was on my own (usual companions being struck down by injury, etc), so my husband came with me to keep me company.

hotel gift bag

Care package left in my hotel room

I booked us in to the Malmaison Reading instead of the Novotel where I’ve stayed the previous years. I was really impressed when I got the the room and found they’d left a care package containing Lucozade, a Mars bar, hand cream, foot cream, and a card (pictured). This, together with the home-made granola they had at the breakfast buffet, were nice touches that would get runners coming back year after year.

Having failed to book a table for dinner, we ended up schlepping around town trying to find a table (every Italian restaurant being full of runners), and didn’t eat until nearly 9pm. This meant that come breakfast time I wasn’t hungry. I forced down some fruit, granola, half a croissant and a pot of green tea, and headed for the shuttle bus to the start line at Green Park.

I went for a pee, dropped my bag off at the bag drop, wrapped myself in a space blanket for warmth, and went to the loo again, then headed to the start line. Almost immediately I needed the loo again – that green tea was a bad idea. But it was too late to go again before the start, I just had to live with it.

I lined myself up near the 1:55 pacer, working on the basis that I’d start there and fall back if needed. The starting gun went – it took me another seven minutes to cross the line. I started well, keeping up with the 1:55 pacer well. As I hit the big hill between miles 2 and 3, I started being overtaken a lot, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I focused on getting to the loo at mile 3, and on the excellent tunes chosen by my friends for my #DistanceDisco collaborative playlist.

It turns out the first loo isn’t until mile 5. Once I finally got there, I felt a lot betterbut the few minutes I spent in the queue there meant I lost the 1:55 pacer. But I was still ahead of the 2:00, and still keeping up with those with blue race numbers.

The crowd support at Reading is amazing – people out cheering in their front gardens, children giving out jelly babies, a church pumping out techno music, a pub giving out beer, and (my favourite, every year) the thundering drum band under the underpass, which spurred me on to my speediest stretch of the race.

Somewhere near the bottom of the big hill at mile 7, the 2:00 pacer caught up with me. I was determined to stay ahead of him, and spent the next mile and a half pushing myself hard to stay ahead. But it was really tough, and I realised it wouldn’t give me a chip time under 2:00 anyway, as I started slightly further ahead. So I decided to slow right down and run the last four miles at a comfortable pace.

Me, around mile 9

From there on, I enjoyed every minute. I checked Twitter and sent this selfie where I look slightly deranged. Here I learned (via Twitter) that my location broadcast had stopped working at some point, so I restarted it (I’ll post again on how that worked once I have feedback from my beta users).

The final few miles – which on previous few years I’ve hated as they’re on a switchback loop along a stretch of motorway with little crowd support – I found good fun this year. I crossed the line grinning and doing a Spitfire.

(The tune that was playing when I crossed the line was Scissor Sisters’ Filthy Gorgeous, chosen by John Field).

Chip time: 2:10:10 – faster than last year, slower than the year before, but on target for a decent marathon time.

Thereafter, it all went a bit wrong. My husband, who’d come along to see me across the finish, sent me a text. I got this, but he didn’t get my reply saying where to meet. In fact, phone coverage here was a complete fail and we couldn’t get any texts or calls through to each other to arrange where to meet. After 25 minutes trying to get hold of him, I was freezing and shivering, so gave up and joined the bus queue. Eventually, he managed to find me there.

me with my medal

My second medal of the year

The bus situation was a mess. In all, I was in the queue for a bus for over two hours. This is an unacceptably long time leave people shivering in the cold, in their sweaty running kit. The longer we were in the queue, the more tempers flared and more upset people were. A woman in front of me burst into tears. Someone else collapsed. Next to me a man with a very tiny baby got into a row with a security guard as he was desperate to get his baby out of the cold and rain.

Having crossed the line at 12.30, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 3pm – well after checkout time, meaning I barely had ten minutes to shower. I didn’t get lunch until after 4pm. In all, it was a great race but the day was ruined for me by the logistics afterwards. I’m really not sure I’d do Reading again.

Serpentine New Year’s Day 10k

Serpentine NYD 10k medal

I began the new year as I mean to go on, by getting up at the crack of dawn (9am) for my first race of the year – the New Year’s Day 10k organised by Serpentine Running Club.

This is the third time I’ve signed up for the NYD 10k, but only the second time I have bothered to have turn up, as last year the lure of getting a bit drunk then staying in bed proved more appealing. Had I not had the marathon coming up, I certainly would have done the same this year, as race conditions were grim. The morning offered the full triumvirate of runner’s favourites: cold, wind and rain.

The timing and almost guaranteed bad weather means the NYD 10k attracts a different crowd from other races – very few fun runners and slow plodders like me, and lots of Proper Serious Runners with athletic bodies and running club vests. I’d been told to expect a personal worst, but that 90% of the battle was getting to the start line.

This year seemed less well-organised than previously, with long queues for registration and bag drop. They also ran out of safety pins well before the start, leading to a bizarre threat to penalise anyone using more than two pins (!).

I bumped into two people I know around the start, my colleague (and fellow marathoner) Jeanette, and a friend from a running forum, which made me feel a little more at ease.

I made may way to the start line, where all the runners huddled together for warmth like emperor penguins in the face of the cold wind. At this point I wished I’d worn my jacket, but by then it was a bit late. Two people behind me discussed whether they’d break 40 minutes for the last time before they turned 40. I felt like a fat, slow fraud of a runner.

A little after 11am, we were off. The race runs on narrow paths through the park, so for the first 2km or so there’s a lot of jostling to get ahead as people find their space and pace. I started well; I looked at my Pebble and saw I was doing 5.36/km, but I was being overtaken by almost everyone else nonetheless.

The route is a winding one through Hyde Park, doubling back on itself a couple of times and including a loop which has to be run twice. By the time I got to the start of the loop at around km 4 there were people just finishing. One of them stepped in a massive puddle and splashed me from the waist down. In yet another sign that I am being comprehensively beaten at this game, this is the point where I started to feel dreadful and slow down, while the puddle-splasher sped on ahead as if it hadn’t happened.

From here on I slowed down to over 6mins/km for the next 4km. The loop is the worst bit of the course anyway – being lapped by speedy people running it for the second time – but this year was especially bad as there was a strong headwind and at one point I think there was even hail.

The water point here was very welcome, and after that I felt a little better. The 6km mark led me to do a little mental fist-bump at having got halfway, and after that the 8km mark seemed to come around quickly. From there it was the home straight. I glanced at my Pebble and realised that if I gave it some welly I could make it round in under an hour.

me-serpentine

My first medal of 2014!

I started to power though, and my speed upped a little – did km 8 in 5:53, and the final kilometre in 5:48 as I pushed myself to get over the line before the hour mark.

My chip time was 59:05 – pretty respectable, I thought, and certainly no personal worst. But it was a strong field of Proper Runners so I was 439th of 582 runners to cross the line.

After the finish I got a medal – hopefully the first of several in 2014 – and a t-shirt (not a technical one, but still decent swag given the £17 entry fee).

What made this race great were the volunteers who were up early on New Years Day to make this a great race for everyone and get the running year off to a good start.